Choosing Fruit Trees for Small Gardens

It is no great surprise that most of us love the notion of large orchards set with plump, sun-kissed fruit and the delights they bring us; however, with plots of land getting smaller, orchards are often more of a dream than a reality. Fortunately, we can enjoy delectable fruits from the smallest of yards or yes, even balconies and patios, to satisfy our desire to be cultivators of our own food.

Multi-grafted or a fruit cocktail tree is a popular choice for getting multiple fruits from a single, small tree and can extend the harvest. Dwarf fruit trees and shrubs can be multifunctional and act as fences or borders in addition to producing a healthy snack – but before running out and buying an assortment of trees for your next fruit salad, careful consideration and planning must be part of the agenda to ensure a delightful harvest.


When deciding what kind of tree to plant, consider the amount of sunshine the space receives. Sunny patios or walls can be ideal spots for trees that require warmth like nectarines, apricots and peaches. If your spot is west or east facing, cooler climate trees such as apples, plums or pears are great options.

Ground or Container

While possible to plant dwarf fruit trees in containers, be prepared to spend a little more time on them – they require pruning and consistency in watering. The confinement of containers requires refreshed soil to be added every two years to keep nutrients at prime levels. Dwarf fruit trees planted directly into the earth are more forgiving than trees in containers but pruning is still vital to keep the tree manageable.

If a pot is best for your small space, make sure to choose a tree with a small rootstock such as a ‘patio’ variety. It is also worthwhile to invest in good quality potting soil and peat to help with water and nutrient retention.

If the fruit tree will be planted directly into the soil, choose a ‘dwarf’ variety. If you have space for a tree along a flat wall, consider training the tree as an espalier. Espalier is a technique used to grow trees horizontally against a wall or fence. Regular pruning is required to maintain the shape. Short on space? Consider a columnar or Minarette fruit tree. These trees bear fruit on short spurs along a vertical stem rather than on horizontal branches.

Choosing the right tree for your climate

While all varieties of fruit are tempting to grow, it is important to choose a variety of tree suited to your local climate and soil conditions. It is possible however, to create your own microclimate­. If your area gets a lot of rain and you really want that peach tree, consider planting it along a wall under an eave to protect it.

Some cooler climate trees require ‘chilling,’ which is the annual number of hours under 7 degrees Celsius for the fruit to set. Find out the average number of chilling hours in your area to ensure the trees’ chilling needs are met. Citrus trees do not require chilling.

Does your fruit tree need a friend?

Determine whether the fruit tree is self-pollinating or needs a pollinating friend. If you are contemplating a tree that requires pollination, consider a multi-grafted tree or ‘duo’ planting to meet pollination needs. ‘Duo’ planting refers to two separate varieties planted together in one hole.

Fruit to consider for small spaces

a single apple hanging from a branch of an apple treeApple – Multiple varieties give an extended harvest, and are required for pollination. Be sure to check the chilling requirements. (Editor’s note: Sustainable Suburbia has another article all about growing apple trees)

Blueberry – This shrub can produce copious amounts of fruit in a relatively small space. They require acidic soil and continuous moisture. (Editor’s note: Sustainable Suburbia has another article all about growing blueberry bushes)

Cherry – The sour cherry is self-pollinating.

Citrus – There are citrus trees to suit any climate – a must have for every garden.

Fig – Figs do well in hot, dry climates. If your area is hot but receives rain, consider creating a micro-climate by planting it under an eave on a west-facing wall. They do well in pots.

Kiwifruit – This vine needs constant pruning but performs well in cooler climates or east-facing locations.

Nectarine – It can be grown in a large pot. Check chilling requirements.

Peach – Dwarf varieties can be kept to 1.5 metres making them suitable for containers.

Pear – Although partially self-pollinating, cross pollinating will produce more fruit.

Plum – Their hardy nature makes them a must for small spaces. They require pollination so consider a multi-grafted tree or ‘duo’ planting.

Tamarillo – A good choice for an area plagued with fruit fly; they tend to be resistant to the pest.

Our ever-changing environment requires us to live gracefully within our surroundings. Growing our own food in the smallest of spaces provides us with fresh, nutritional bounty and supports the natural world around us. So go forth and plant – and reap the rewards!

Angela Christensen holds a Masters degree in Sustainable Communities where her passion lies in small-scale, sustainable agriculture. When she isn’t playing with her two young children, she is kept busy gardening, canning, cooking and generally hanging out in nature.

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